QUAD ROCK 50: RECAP 2021
I have not written a race recap since my PR road marathon way back in 2009, but I feel compelled to get something out about this one, so I will remember it and remind myself that when times are tough, I can make it through. The more hard-fought ones are the ones to remember. This is the 3rd time I have run Quad Rock 50 (50 miles, over 10,000 ft of gain, 85% single track), my fastest time on the course, yet I struggled the most, physically, and more so, mentally.
Sometime, life is busy and stressful, and we must figure out how to balance it all. A year dealing with the stress of a pandemic, 3 recently adopted children, work as an RN, FNP graduate school, a chronic hip injury that has been plaguing me since August 2019, and persistent sleep deprivation, I went into this one physically and mentally drained. I have cried more in the past 12 months, than I have in my entire life. Considering what we all have endured this past year, I suspect I am not alone in experiencing a high level of stress and turbulent emotions. However, despite it all, my training went relatively smoothly. Yes there were some runs that felt horrible, as I tried to ease back into workouts on unfamiliar paths, in the dark, during the cold winter months, after long days down at Denver Health and Children's Hospital. However, as this semester's clinical rotations wrapped-up and I got more into the cycle, things went pretty well.
The PT and massage (thanks to my bestie and massage therapist extraordinaire Kristle Liddle) had been helping keep my chronic hip issue at bay, my workout times were coming back down to where they were in 2019 and my LRs were feeling good. As I tapered, my RHR was where I expect it, when I have a good race and legs were starting to get back some pop. The coach clearly got it right, as things were coming together. The rest was up to me. I had failed miserably at getting down to my “ideal” race weight. The older I get; I have found getting there has become increasingly challenging. I decided I would not take up any unhealthful habits, like the major caloric restrictions I would often engage in back in my younger, faster, road racing days. Getting rail thin, is part of the road running culture and although the issue still persists in ultrarunning, does not feel as profound and there is more acceptance of different body types. However, regardless of race setting, endurance runners, both male and particularly female often struggle with the weight issue. I was carrying 5 more lbs this time versus my last Quad Rock 50 run. Who wants to carry 5 extra lbs over 50 miles and 10,000+ ft of gain. Ugh. However, is it worth risking your health and wellbeing? No. It certainly feels better, to be standing on the start line feeling like one of the uber thin, “distance-runner looking" girls. Nonetheless, at 44 years old, with autoimmune conditions galore, a busy life and affinity for local beer, getting there in a healthful AND happy way, was not in the cards this race. Maybe next race, maybe not. At my age it takes an insane amount of discipline to do it the healthy way, and right now I just do not have the energy or frankly desire, to give up all spontaneity. Sometimes I enjoy the challenge of that intense discipline, but right now it felt misery inducing. I would be lying if I said I was happy with that extra weight, as I thought that those lbs may be the biggest (stupid pun) impediment to a Quad Rock 50 PR.
In my messy headspace, the week leading up to this race, I kept thinking, I am old (44), I am chubby (up 5 lbs), I am sick (autoimmune garbage), I am injured (hip), I am slow (can't touch my former road times). This line of thinking is totally unproductive, no matter what challenges you are facing, yet I sometimes find myself there. Last Quad, I was thinking, I am fit, I am faster than I have been in years, I am managing my health conditions well, and I am ready to PR. My body and mind were ready to roll in 2019. It is amazing how mindset can impact everything. This time around, prior to race-eve packet pickup, I was seriously toying with dropping to the 25-mile distance and by race morning, I was sitting in my car crying (for the billionth time this year), as everything felt too overwhelming. I was not crying because of the race itself, rather, I was crying because every stressor of the past 12 months was crashing down on me; the stress of the pandemic, things I have seen in the hospital, the kid’s struggles, graduate school, the unexpected death of a close childhood friend etc. Running for 10+ hours felt like too much, like I was about to topple over my tipping point.
Fortunately, I have a wonderful supportive family. My husband strongly encouraged me to just get out there. “That is your happy place. You will feel better once you get moving. If you do not go, how will you feel?” Furthermore, the running community, up here in Fort Collins, is full of caring, beautiful, strong people. As I reluctantly drug myself to the start line, vented about my stress level, rubbed my red eyes and revealed my not-so great mental state to anyone who would listen, I was met with warmth and support. The people are what make this sport and these events incredible experiences.
As the starting countdown began, I had no idea what to expect, although my expectations were pretty low. For the first 16 miles of the race, I felt off, no pep in my step, flat. I recalled my last Quad 50 run and that exhilarating feeling of being tapered, ready to race with poppy fresh legs. I longed for that feeling. That was not the experience of today. My legs had the pop during taper runs, so it was not something off with my training, it was something off within me, today. However, I predetermined that if I started the 50, I am finishing the 50. No DNF’s just because I am not into it.
As I made my way up the first climb, running up Towers (a steep notorious local service road), I came upon AJ, a local trail runner, PT and coach and chatted a bit. I must admit to having that "oh shit, I went out to fast" moment when I saw him, as I know he is a faster runner than myself, but after listening to him, it sounded as though he was taking this one conservatively, so perhaps, I was not too over my skies. I ran through the first Towers aid (you pass this aid station 4 x throughout the race), as I was not in need of anything. I waved at a few local runner peeps, including fellow Gnar team member Elise, who were volunteering up there and headed down spring creek.
As the race progressed, my mood improved. Certainly, the endorphins associated with exercise, were kicking in, as was seeing so many familiar and friendly faces, running on the course, working the aid stations and photographing the race. It is a totally different and fabulous experience, racing on the home trails! Cam the local photog (orea media) and ultrarunner was all over the place! In my head I was trying to figure out how the heck he was cutting around to see us in so many distant locations (he ended up covering 22 miles that day!). At this point, I still felt nowhere near 100%, but so much better than earlier in the morning. I was happy my husband pushed me to not only get out there but, stick with the 50. I am a slow-twitch girl and a 50-mile race is more my speed (or lack thereof), than 25. Instead of worrying about time or place, I channeled my coach's prior advice. She is a huge proponent of focusing on doing the best you are able on any given day and celebrating that accomplishment, regardless of the results. She is a fierce competitor (Addie Bracy, Nike elite, NS100k record holder, podium finisher at crazy competitive races like Lake Sonoma, Olympic trials qualifier in the marathon and 10k, wicked smart about the physiology and psychology of training, huge supporter of the LGBTQ runners in our community and a genuinely kind person), but also understands what is important about this crazy thing called life and the value of the experience.
As I plugged along, every climb felt substantially harder than in prior Quad Rock 50 runs, yet somehow paces were faster. The next big climb, up the rock trail, felt hard, but my pace was pretty good, for me. All the hard work, put in over the winter, was paying dividends. This time I stopped at Towers for some refuel, chatting with Eric, who is always a staple at the Towers aid. He paced me in a lit up (yes it had lights!) tutu through the epic ankle deep mud, soupy cow pies and torrential downpour of Never Summer 100k in 2019. He gave me a little shit about whining to him on text, the night prior, about wanting to drop to the 25. That's why Eric is an awesome pacer and ultrarunner himself. A great guy, but no tolerating my whining!
My body felt tired down Mill creek and up the Howard climb, but I was moving along pretty well, considering. I had lost AJ earlier, but we ended up back together near the top of Howard and hung out on the Timber descent, chatting a lot. He mentioned we were looking to come into the turnaround in about 4 hours and 40 minutes. I was surprised. I had looked at my watch several times and attempted to calculate where I was time wise, but my inability to do math while running, had me incorrectly concluding I was off PR pace. In my last running I hit the turnaround in 4 hours and 47 minutes, so I was 7 min faster. I was still not feeling great, but a lot better than earlier this morning. Perhaps a PR was in the cards?
As I ran down to the turnaround at 25 miles, I again began to think about everything that has occurred over the past year. I am not sure why this was all hitting me this week, at this moment. Maybe taper madness or maybe because things are settling, so I finally have time to let down the wall I have been holding up. There have been many cracks in that wall (hence the crying), throughout this year, but the wall was actually crumbling today. My eyes started to well up in tears again, and once more, I was met with the wonderful support of spectating local runner peeps, including a big' ole hug from Colleen, another local ultra runner girl and fellow Gnar Team member, as I headed out for the second 25. Crying mid-race about things completely unrelated to the race itself…what an unconventional race experience.
As I made my way out of the aid station, to the Timber climb, I pondered all the trials and tribulations my 3 kiddos have faced, and how easy this 50-mile endeavor is, compared to what they have endured. Their resilience and ability to persevere inspire me every day. Wham! I faceplanted mid-thought. As I hit the ground, I laughed. “Seriously, Tara? Pick-up your feet.” I picked myself up off the ground, continued up the trail and, WHAM!, I did it again, hitting harder this time. "WTH?" I started to question, whether heading back out for the second 25 was a good idea, at which moment I started to see the lead men in the 25, literally, tearing it up down the hill. Two of which (Clint and Stephen, Gnar Teammate), amid their mock speed paces, gave me shout-outs. Those guys working so hard, flying and still able and willing to yell out a “nice work,” and “f&#* ya!, Tara”, were just the motivation I needed, to keep going! That is what is so cool about this community! That is also what is so fun about this race. In the 50-mile, on the return trip, you get to see all the runners behind you in the 50 and the entire 25 field. I started to see more and more familiar and smiling faces. The camaraderie, seeing so many test their limits and push themselves, this is what it is all about! Next I saw Diane, who was not having the day she was hoping for, but still smiling and gave me a high five, which is truly inspiring, as well as her beau John, who was on target to finish his first Quad 50. Further up Timber in the trees, I saw the lead 25 mile girls, including local speed-star, Sophie, cruising down to the 25 finish. As I started to head back down I saw Rachel, who is always keeping me motivated with David Groggins quotes, running her first 25. I saw two of the Michelles (all of the Michelles are local legends), Maria, who was running 25 just 6 days after a road marathon, Katie Robinson, who is always smiling with super positive energy, and Tina, who is one of the strongest grandmaster girls out here, and Celeste, Cat among many, many others. Again, running these local races and seeing so many friendly and familiar faces, is so much fun.
As I came down to the Arthurs aid station, around mile 32, I chatted with Niki, not only a stellar runner, but one of the fittest and strongest girls ever, kicking the boys butts in the weight room, who I later learned had sustained a brutal ankle sprain yet was still finished. “Hey speedy lady, there is the 2nd place girl.” I knew at the turnaround there were 4 or 5 girls ahead of me and remember passing one, maybe two since, but unlike in races past, I was so in my own weird headspace and more focused on doing the best I could regardless, that I had no idea I had moved up into contention for a podium position. All of a sudden that competitive fire that seemed too exhausting, too overwhelming, earlier in the day kicked in, Although my head and entire body felt tired and heavy, I began trying to push it harder.
We leap frogged the next 18 miles, we chatted a little, talked about how we felt (neither of us were feeling fabulous), and she was super nice. Again, what I love about this community; we push each other, yet support each other. Yes, it is a race and pushing oneself to their best day and/or competing, is often a huge motivator, but in the end, for most of us non-elite, it is about the experience.As I entered the aid station, I asked an aid station worker where I could toss my garbage and the look on his face, as I proceeded to pull smashed potatoes and pickles out of my pocked was priceless. I chuckled, as I again thought about how horrified the former road runner me would have found this scene. I was feeling a little loopy, having trouble getting a coherent sentence, my hands were all swollen and realized, I had switched, without intent, to only drinking only water. There is my lack of a set hydration and fueling strategy biting me. I started to worry I was slightly hyponatremic, which is scary as f$&*. I got one bottle of vfuel and Eric took a salt shaker and shook a bunch of salt into my other bottle. I must have needed it, as the straight up salt water, was refreshing, in a weird way. The other girl, was at the aid station too. I was stoked she had not gotten too far out front. I left the aid station first and would not see her again, until she blew by me in the final miles.
The run across Westridge and back down to Horsetooth aid was uneventful. I saw my friend, Rob/HT aid captain again and he noted, "you really turned this around." There was also a handful of other local lady runner peeps cheering.
The climb up spring creek was also grueling and sloooooow. With 40 miles on my legs, I had little left. I ran with another guy and we briefly discussed how damn hard this was getting. Near the top of the climb, I saw another Gnar teammate, Brett, snapping photos and recalled how in the last Quad 50 I was amid a massive bonk at this point, like losing vision, trembling, stumbling, unable to think straight, and he was one of the volunteers at Towers aid who helped me get some food in, during my delirium and sent me on my way with a pocketful of crackers. He helped save that race for me. I got the Master's course record by something miniscule, like 20 seconds. Without Brett's help at that last aid station, I would have ended up walking/stumbling in those final miles. A huge shoutout to all the race volunteers, who are there to support! This time my legs felt heavy, but I had kept the steady stream of vfuel gels going, in addition to the other fare I had been picking at, so blood glucose wise, was feeling fine. As, I was refilling water at the Towers aid, I saw the other girl, coming up the trail. I needed to get out of there ASAP, so took off, with bottles in hand. I needed to hold on during this descent and the more technical section across Stout, as much as possible. I knew if any other women were near me when we hit the valley trail, I was done for. For whatever reason, my pace up a steep rocky single track, is not much different than on a flat rolling valley trail and the valley feels worse. I am a big climb girl, not a fast/flat girl. I was worried if there was a fourth girl in the vicinity, I could very likely loose my spot on the valley.I laughed as she went by and said, "I caught you." It is so ridiculous how I can not seem to run that flat stuff any faster than the steep stuff. After she bebopped by, I was just hanging on, hoping no one else was near enough to pass me.